C.R. (Buzz) Nixon was deputy minister of National Defence from 1975 to 1983.
It appears Ottawa has put on hold its decision to purchase next-generation F-35 fighter jets. It should go one step further and junk the purchase of any new fighters, period – saving $45-billion in the process. Canada does not need fighter aircraft.
New Canadian fighters would almost certainly never be involved in serious strike or aerial combat operations and are not required to protect Canada’s populace or sovereignty. They would only be of symbolic assistance (such as Canada currently is doing in Eastern Europe via NATO) and could provide support of ground forces in low-combat hostilities, which could be had more effectively and at lower cost by other types of aircraft.
The only credible aerial threat to Canadian territory, sovereignty and populace is a copy-cat “9/11” attack – a danger that essentially cannot be defeated by fighter aircraft.
Natural disasters at home or abroad would not require fighters, but could require helicopters, transport aircraft and other forms of military assistance.
Canada could be involved in providing humanitarian relief, peace-keeping or to help maintain order and protection of people and property - a type of operation would not likely involve aerial combat, but could require aerial support to ground operations. This type of operation could be provided more effectively and at lower cost than by using fighters.
The more-demanding roles for fighter aircraft – aerial combat and striking – would occur during an intense war involving major powers, which have F-35 or comparable (“Gen 5”) aircraft and also have the economic ability to fully engage in heightened warfare. The only credible foreseeable future situation where that could pertain would be a highly improbable war between the United States and China. Russia is – and will be for decades – a weak economic and military power trying to play a significant role in world affairs, moving gradually closer to the western industrialized nations and not exhibiting a perceptible effort to build up offensive military capabilities. For the foreseeable future, despite current tensions re Ukraine, Russia will not aggressively challenge the United States or its allies, in which case Canada does not need fighters for defence of Western Europe.
In the most unlikely event of war between U.S. and China, it is difficult if not impossible to concoct a credible scenario which would merit Canada providing Gen 5 aircraft.
Fighters simply cannot contribute anything substantial toward the achievement of the six Canadian defence objectives. The best course for the Harper government would be to defer any further decisions on military equipment procurement pending a thorough rethink about Canada’s defence posture.
A rethink should start with a study, analysis and assessment of the foreseeable state and trends of the world and the action of the major nations. It would then be possible, with the perspective such a study should provide, to specify the roles that the Canadian Forces may be called upon to discharge, and therefore indicate the size, organization and equipment that the Forces – land, sea and air – should have for the 21st century. The result would be a report more substantial and specific than the weak and specious out-of-date Canada First Defence Strategy.